Qantas aims for zero net emissions by 2050, cap emissions at 2020 levels

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Qantas will match carbon offsets purchased by customers as part of a plan by the airline to achieve zero net emissions by 2050. But no talk of electric planes.

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Australia’s largest airline, Qantas, has committed to capping its emissions from flights at 2020 levels, and aiming for “zero net emissions” by 2050 through a program of initiatives that include boosting its carbon offset program and shifting more of fuel use into zero-emissions alternatives.

Any growth in gross emissions from flights from 2020 – such as from increased flights in high traffic routes, including Sydney and Melbourne, as well as non-stop flights to London and New York – will be offset. The airline will look to reduce emissions via biofuels, but makes no mention of any shift to electric planes.

“We recognise that airlines have a responsibility to cut emissions and combat climate change. We’ve already made some good progress, especially by investing in newer aircraft that have a much smaller carbon footprint,” Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said.

“We want to do more, and faster. We’re effectively doubling our carbon offsetting program from today and we’re capping our net emissions across Qantas and Jetstar from 2020 so that all new flying will be carbon neutral.”

Qantas will also immediately begin matching its customer”s purchases of offsets dollar-for-dollar, effectively doubling the amount of offsets purchased for Qantas and Jetstar flights.

Qantas estimates that customers have purchased the equivalent of 3 million tonnes of carbon offsets since 2007 and hopes by offering to match the offsets purchased by customers, even more customers will voluntarily opt in to purchase offsets when booking flights.

“Qantas offsets all of its own travel needs and so do many of our customers. By matching their efforts, we’re hoping it will encourage even more people to offset and the program will keep growing,” Joyce added.

The new commitments apply to all airlines under the Qantas Group umbrella, including Qantas, Jetstar, the regional airline QantasLink and Qantas Freight.

The airline has made no commitment towards incorporating technologies that would allow a shift away from liquid fuels altogether, such as adopting emerging electric plane alternatives. Qantas will instead invest in shifting its fleet on to zero emissions biofuels, with the aim of achieving zero net emissions from 2050.

Qantas has committed to investing $50 million over the next 10-years develop a more sustainable supply of aviation fuels, which will largely focus on supporting the emergence of a viable biofuel industry within Australia.

Biofuels have offered the potential of a zero-emissions source of fuel, with emissions absorbed during the production of the fuel effectively offsetting the emissions produced when the fuel is burnt, but have faced significant cost and supply challenges.

Qantas Group will also soon replace parts of the Qantas and Jetstar fleets with aircraft with improved fuel efficiency, that will contribute to emissions reductions of 15 to 20 per cent.

In 2009, under the banner of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) airlines, including Qantas, committed to reducing the sectors greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2050. Qantas will go beyond this commitment by effectively eliminating or offsetting all of its emissions within the same timeframe.

The aviation sector contributes around 2 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and just over 10 per cent of transport emissions. Based on data published by the Clean Energy Regulator, Qantas ranks amongst the top 20 largest greenhouse gas emitters in Australia.

Qantas estimates that around 10 per cent of its customers already opt-in to purchase offsets for their flights, and says it is one of the world’s largest purchasers of carbon offsets for the aviation sector.

The airline sees a shift to biofuels as an opportunity to reduce its operation emissions by up to 80 per cent, but such fuels are currently twice the price of conventional aviation fuels derived from petroleum products.

“Innovation is going to be key. We’re investing $50 million to hopefully kickstart a sustainable aviation fuel industry in Australia. We know from our own trials that the technology works but we need to get to a scale of production where it’s a practical substitute,” Joyce added.

“Concerns about emissions and climate change are real, but we can’t lose sight of the contribution that air travel makes to society and the economy. The industry has already come a long way in cutting its footprint and the solution from here isn’t to simply ‘fly less’ but to make it more sustainable.”

Over 2015 and 2016, the all-electric and solar-powered Solar Impulse aircraft successfully completed an around-the-world trip for a solar-powered aircraft.

Andre Borschberg, who co-piloted the Solar Impulse aircraft, has subsequently founded an all-electric aircraft start-up H55, with the company successfully launching its first prototype aircraft earlier this year.

Borschberg joined The Driven podcast in July to talk about his experience with the Solar Impulse project and the future of all-electric flight. You can listen to the episode here.

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